An annual national study of teen drug abuse commissioned by The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports the disturbing move by U.S. teens toward prescription drugs as their choice for drug abuse.1,2 The 25-page report (available at www.drugfree.org3) reveals that Vicodin, OxyContin, Ritalin/Adderall, and cough medicine are tried more often by teens abusing drugs than cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, heroin and most other street drugs.
The numbers are a bit frightening. Almost one out of every five teenagers has used a prescription painkiller to get "high." Approximately one in 11 has used an OTC medication such as cough syrup.
According to the survey, this is what our youth are taking:
- Vicodin - 18% of those polled said they have abused this drug at least once. Vicodin is one of several opioids or narcotics used to treat pain. They give the abuser a rush similar to heroin.
- OxyContin - 10% of teens have abused this drug. OxyContin is another opiod painkiller.
- Ritalin/Adderall - 10% of teens have abused these drugs, which are stimulants used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- OTC cough medicines - 9% of teens have abused cough medications, many of which contain the drug dextromethorphan or "DXM." When taken in larger-than-recommended doses, DXM causes a range of hallucinogenic effects.
One reason America's teens are turning to the prescription drugs is their assumed safety. If their medical doctor readily prescribes them, how harmful can they be?
Another reason has to be accessibility. Buying drugs off the street from someone you don't know has some pretty obvious risks. Raiding your mother's medicine cabinet has the appearance of greater safety.
But at the end of the day, drug abuse is still drug abuse. Only these days, it isn't a Columbian cartel or an underground meth lab. The people producing the drugs our children are abusing are the same drug manufacturers that spend billions of dollars each year, convincing consumers that their drugs are the answer to any and all ailments.
Take another look at the numbers. If you have five teenage patients, chances are at least one of them is abusing prescription or OTC drugs. If you have five parents of teenagers, the problems may be going on right under their noses. The parents (or their children) may be "misplacing" medications, and the parents might not even realize what is happening.
This is another opportunity for our profession to step up and make a difference in people's lives. This is a serious problem in the United States, and the chiropractic profession should be the first to speak out against it.
You should be talking to your patients, writing an article for your local newspaper, putting something on your Web site, and even contacting The Partnership for a Drug-Free America to see if you can partner with them. Chiropractic has always represented a nondrug lifestyle; this is our chance to go on record with an issue affecting the nation.
Yes, you can use this article. A printable copy is available online at www.chiroweb.com/archives/23/17/30.html. You can also copy it into a text-editing program (e.g., Microsoft Word) and edit it as you wish.
Yes, there is a substantial amount of information you can access on The Partnership for a Drug-Free America Web site. Make your patients aware of this potential problem their children are facing. Get them to visit www.drugfree.org and educate themselves and their teens.
Providing this information is another way to introduce health into the lives of our patients and the people in our community. Your actions could result in the saving of a life (or many lives). Your efforts could prevent a young person from overdosing on a drug they thought was safe just because their mother or their little brother took it (for a health condition).
Our society has embraced drug therapy for too long. As consumers, we are reaping what we have allowed the drug companies to sow. Chiropractic is qualified to speak out against this trend in our youth. We only have to open our mouths and our hearts.
- The Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey (PATS): Teens 2004. Released April 21, 2005. Conducted by Roper Public Affairs and Media for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America; a survey of adolescents in grades 7 through 12. Total sample: 7,314 teenagers nationwide.
- Generation Rx: National Study Reveals New Category of Substance Abuse Emerging: Teens Abusing Rx and OTC Medications Intentionally to Get High. Synopsis of findings from the PATS 2004 Study.
- The survey and the synopsis of findings (references 1 and 2, respectively) are available on the Partnership for a Drug-Free America Web site (www.drugfree.org).
Click here for more information about Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher.